In 2010, the credit card industry bounced back from the effects of a nationwide recession, a slew of new federal regulations, and a sense of discontent among consumers who paid down balances faster than ever. A handful of credit cards led the charge to bring value, service, and convenience back to Americans:

Best Cash-back Credit Cards of 2010

"Interchange fee" shifted from being retail industry jargon to a consumer buzz phrase in 2010, especially when merchants placed cash rebate credit cards in their crosshairs. Two cards reminded our team that reward cards can mean so much more than just getting a rebate:

PenFed Visa Platinum Cashback Rewards Card
When the Pew Charitable Trust compared credit unions to banks in a 2009 consumer study, Pentagon Federal earned high marks for having a customer service team committed to helping its members resolve late payment issues instead of racking up penalty fees. Though PenFed gears its products toward military families, Americans with excellent credit can qualify for 2% cash rebates by joining a partner non-profit organization.

Fidelity® Investment Rewards® American Express® Card
Cash-back credit cards became hard to find this year, and our team still gets asked whether Fidelity Investments has discontinued its reward card programs. Fidelity customers with great credit can still request an invitation for this rare American Express card, which deposits 2% of your annual purchases into a tax-deferred investment account or into a cash account.

Cash-back credit card predictions for 2011:  Issuers have already started making their existing cash-back products more robust and adding back sign-up bonuses to several cards.  I think cash-back cards will continue to return to levels we saw prior to the CARD Act and credit crunch. And, in some cases, I think we'll see the movement happen pretty rapidly.

Best Airline and Travel Credit Cards of 2010

Changing business travel patterns and pricing structures have forced many Americans to rethink their loyalty to airlines and hotel chains. A pair of reward credit cards brings flexibility back to reward travel.

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card
This innovative credit union wins high marks for inventing a travel reward credit card that fits the bargain-seeking lifestyle of the modern traveler. Points earned on all purchases and bonus points earned for airfare and hotel charges convert to awards on any airline, with no blackout dates or other restrictions. Spending more than $15,000 in a year earns a cardholder the right to enjoy any of over 600 participating airport lounges.

Capital One® VentureSM Rewards Credit Card
This strong reward card gives travelers compelling reasons to sign up. Cardholders earn double miles on every purchase with no caps or expiration dates. Miles can be redeemed not only on any airline, but for any travel expense, giving cardholders plenty of flexibility. And travelers headed overseas will enjoy no transaction fees when using this card.  A sign-up bonus offers 10,000 bonus miles for new cardholders who spend $1,000 in the first three months. 

Airline and travel credit card predictions for 2011:  Although we haven’t seen airline and travel cards ramping back up, I believe issuers will begin gradually adding more enticing offers to attract consumers with high credit scores. We have seen a few really aggressive sign-up bonus offers in the past couple of months. So, bonus offers will likely become quite alluring in 2011.

Best Low-Interest Credit Cards of 2010

Some credit card issuers bucked the trend of higher interest rates by aiming for the wallets of financially stable consumers. It may be tougher than ever to qualify for a card with a single-digit APR, but these two banks make it tempting to try.

Simmons Visa Platinum
Since 1903, Simmons First National Bank has curated its client list by catering to Americans on sound financial footing. The Simmons Bank Platinum Visa rewards high credit scores with a low APR and one of the best balance transfer offers in the country. Simmons may not be a household name, but it offers the best deal of 2010 for cardholders who need to carry a balance.

PenFed Promise Visa Card
We seated Pentagon FCU near the stage, since it's claiming so many of this year's awards. PenFed offers a remarkable, low-interest credit card geared toward military families who make frequent overseas trips. With no foreign transaction fees, no annual fees, and no service charges of any kind, PenFed made some of its big bank competitors so angry that they actually challenged its charter (and lost).

Low-interest credit card predictions for 2011:  With some experts predicting that the Prime Rate will increase in 2011, many consumers might have some anxiety around where interest rate will go for credit cards.  However, I think issuers will stay competitive in this area and that we won’t see any major interest rates changes in the upcoming year. I even think some issuers will reverse course and actually lower their rates in 2011!

Best Low-Introductory-Rate Credit Cards of 2010

Many banks backed away from teaser rate promotions while they figured out new federal rules about special offers and penalty triggers. Now that the dust has settled in the credit card industry, the teaser rate has returned to help savvy consumers save money on finance charges.

Citi Platinum Select MasterCard
Balance transfer fees have become a new fact of life for most credit card customers, but Citi mitigates their 3% service charge with a 24-month no-interest offer for new cardholders. New accounts also get 0% APR on purchases for the first year, with no annual fee. With more money to lend after a painful, public restructuring, Citi has been more aggressive about offering this card to consumers with good credit.

Discover More Card
Just when it seemed that no-interest reward cards had become extinct, Discover laid out a strong offer for consumers with high credit scores. The Discover More Card offers cardholders a 0% introductory rate on balance transfers for 18 months. Cardholders can also enjoy a 0% APR on purchases during the first six months while earning Discover's usual up to 1% Cash-back Bonus, with special rewards of up to 5% on specific merchant categories.

Low-introductory-rate credit card predictions for 2011:  Issuers have certainly been adding more aggressive introductory rate offers as of late.  We should continue to see this trend, but I doubt we start seeing the low- or no-fee offers we were accustomed to not so long ago.

By Curtis Arnold, Founder CardRatings

Original Article: Editor's Choice Awards: Best Credit Cards of 2010, Part 1

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